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The Third Man

HUNTED...By a thousand men! Haunted...By a lovely girl! 

Year: 1949 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1 (Academy) 
Certificate: BBFC PG Cert – Parental guidance 
Subtitles: The level of subtitling in this film is unknown to WSC 
Directed by Carol Reed 
Starring: Unknown  
An image from The Third Man

Director: Carol Reed

Starring: Orson Wells, Joseph Cotten, Allida Vali

Struggling pulp-fiction writer Holly Martins (Cotten) accepts an invitation to 1940s Vienna from an old school friend, Harry Lime, only to find on arrival that he has been killed in a traffic accident. When Holly decides to investigate his death and vindicate him from police accusations of involvement in the Black Market, he discovers worrying truths behind the ‘accident’ that killed his friend: who is the mysterious third man that witnesses saw at the scene?

The corruption and squalor of post-war Vienna provides the backdrop to Graham Green's tale of deception and greed, and Reed's distinctive use of dramatic lighting and shadow makes The Third Man, in the eyes of some, the pinnacle of Film Noir Cinema, and by any standards a must see for any fan of the genre. Orson Wells, playing the mysterious master-criminal Harry Lime, gave one of his greatest performances here, bringing to the role all the moral complexity of Green's original. His famous speech at the top of Vienna's Ferris wheel, where he justifies his actions by comparing the people below to dots, brings out all the disarming magnetism and moral bankruptcy that Lime represents. Strong performances by Cotten and particularly Vali as the tragic heroine caught up in the struggle between the police and the racketeers anchor the film from being swept away by Well's charismatic yet chilling performance.

Stylistically, the film is a masterpiece. The use of eerily lit, desolate streets and plazas and disorienting diagonal camera-angles, especially for the interior shots, combines with the apparently incongruous yet strangely successful soundtrack- jaunty, folk-like melodies played on the zither, who's international fame was made by the famous ‘Third Man Theme’. Reed has created a film of astonishing beauty, humour and humanity; a definite must for anyone interested in the cinema of the 40s.

Ben Chisnall

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Screenings of this film:

1974/1975 Summer Term (16mm)
2000/2001 Spring Term (35mm)
2006/2007 Autumn Term (35mm)